A Reunion Party

Yesterday was a bit of an odd day for me. It was just the kids and me. My washer and dryer ran constantly, washing blankets and towels. The travel crib, air mattress, tent, and sleeping pads were all put away. I think I retrieved all the half-drunk sodas and water bottles that accidentally got left hither and yon. I still need to vacuum, mop, and give the bathroom a cleaning.

Even with three kids running around, the house feels strangely empty and quiet.

Having 7 people stay with you will do that.

Three of those people were complete strangers a little over a year ago.

Over the last week and a half, the moderator and 5 of the 10 cast members from Mossflower Odyssey 3: The Lost Treasure of Captain Blade were at my house. Though I knew 3 of them personally before the contest, the moderator and 2 members were new friends met during the course of the contest.  Since the contest ended last year, we’ve kept in touch through Skype calling, helping with other writing projects, sharing art, and just chatting over Skype. I’d made general invitations to the crew, telling them to come visit me in Montana and I’d take them through Yellowstone National Park.

I didn’t believe we’d actually end up doing that…

But on August 9th, I picked up 3 guys at the airport who I struggled to call by their real names, since the character names of Robert, Airan, and Tooley rolled off my tongue so much easier. A few days later, the writers for Chak and Scully pulled in my driveway with their kids. The writer for Crue swung by several times for games and dinners.

We went on a hike, played lots of games, had Cooking With Tooley LIVE, traded art (well, Chak, Rob, Airan, and Tooley did), and had our epic journey through Yellowstone.

It was kinda funny, because a year ago, Chak, Scully, Crue, and I (along with one other who’d applied to the contest, but hadn’t made it in) got together. We had a root beer tasting party and hung out, doing a Skype call with others in the cast for fun. And someone mentioned how they wished they could be there with us.

Funny that they actually were, a year later.

I’m feeling nostalgic and a bit lonely for the good times. I spent some of my downtime yesterday reading over our story and the critiques and various conversations that happened on the forums. I never knew last summer, when I threw together an application for MO3, that I would end up making new friends that would travel across the country to all hang out together.

You know, it’s been a hard summer for me. I’ve been working hard on my revision projects and taking care of the kids, while my husband’s barely been home because of his work. All our vacation plans ended up canceled.

I’m a bit of an introvert by nature, but circumstances over the last few months have given me more introversion than even I can handle.

I don’t think I realized just how lonely I’ve been. Having the insanity of all the people in my house, the late nights, and the break in the routine was exactly what I needed.

So to any of the crew of MO3 that read this, thanks for making the effort to come out here. Thanks for the laughs, and the fun, and for letting me drag you around the Rockies. You really made my summer.

NaNoWriMo Halftime Report

If you’ve visited my site any time in the last 15 days, you may have noticed a new word count tracker over there on the right sidebar. That’s my official word count for NaNoWriMo 2015 and I’m pleased to say it has been steadily growing.

NaNohalfway

At the start of the month, I set a goal of writing an average of 2000 words a day in order to give myself that much needed buffer that always seems to come in handy during some point in the month. So far, I am 5 days ahead of schedule, so the goal of a buffer is definitely complete. I have written every day, though Day 12 was only about 250 words because of an almost crippling headache, but I still managed a little something even in the midst of that.

For the first time in 9 years, I’m also not in danger of running out of plot. Currently, I have used 18 of my plot cards and have 24 remaining. I’m averaging about 1800 words per card, which makes it possible that the final draft for Noontide Green will be 75,000 words, which would make it my longest rough draft since the original draft of Sentinels of Mysera (which I think was a smidgen over 100,000 words). Most of my NaNo drafts tend to hit right around the 50,000 word mark (except for The Island Wars, which I haven’t finished…), so I’m pretty pleased with this month’s progress.

The best part is that I’ve reached the part of the story that I’m really excited to write. The best scenes are still to come, so I have a lot to look forward to over the rest of the month.

The downside to being so excited to work on my NaNo is that I still have an epilogue to write to finish off Vera Silvertooth’s story in Redwall Survivor. I’m having a hard time pulling my mind out of Noontide Green long enough to make any progress in that department. I may need to take a day or two off from NaNo to get that done, which is another good reason I have a buffer to my word count.

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? How’s it going? Are you enjoying your story or is it fighting you every step of the way? Let me know in the comments.

The Conclusion of Mossflower Odyssey III

The Redwall Survivor competition has concluded, for the most part. A handful of final posts and epilogues need to go up, but the voting is over. The winner has been announced. For those of you who may have been following the story, I’m going to reveal my character.

I was the amulet-obsessed, “not-a-pirate”, pyromaniac cook named…

5flunn

Image created by Airan

Vera was my only application that I entered into Redwall Survivor and I didn’t put as much effort into it as I should have. I wrote my application for her in a day, let it sit until it was almost time for us to leave for our Denver vacation, then scrambled to revise and send it out. Vera’s app was not very well received and I honestly didn’t think I’d get in.

When I did, I didn’t think I’d last long. Vera was very disliked by the audience at first. Plus I came into the first round a bit late, since I was still on vacation during the first part. I know my absence made my fellow cast members nervous during that first round.

When the first round passed and I squeaked by alive, I was completely shocked. I took the critiques I’d gotten from my app and first few posts and did my best to apply them to the character. One of the biggest mistakes I made with Vera is that I didn’t do a single bit of character building beyond the application. I had no reason for her to be stealing an amulet. She had no background and very little personality.

Vera_Avatar

Avatar by Vizon… wait for it…

As the weeks and months past, I delved into the character more and more. I’d originally intended Vera to be a bit more crazy and evil than she turned out. But I like the way she ended up in the end.

It was a huge shock to actually make it to the top three. I had a few weeks along the way where I was certain I would be next to go, but my vixen carried me through to the end.

To the rest of the cast, thanks for the ride! It was fun to get to know Chak, Scully, and Crue (who I know in real life) better. Plink, it was good have an old face from the glory days of the ROC and to do a form of role playing again with you, and thank you so much for writing Hylan’s song for me! Tooley, man, you were probably the most helpful out of everyone. Thanks for the critiques, brainstorming, and just the fun times. I’ve never laughed so hard listening to someone cook before. Who knew banana bread at 3 am could be so funny! 🙂 Robert, Ciera, Fildering, and Vasily, it was an honor to write and interact with your characters. Thanks for the fun and the memories! And last, but certainly not least, Airan. You were a fantastic moderator. Thanks for creating the fun plot line involving Atlas and Captain Blade. I hope I’ll get to participate in a future contest with you.

To Matra, Kingsdotr, and all the others who critiqued the posts at some point or the other, thank you for taking the time to read the story and offer your thoughts. We of the cast lived for those days when we saw comments and reviews.

Oh, and Vizon, thanks for all the artwork! If you want to see what Vizon drew during the competition, check out her thread on the forums.

To all the readers, thank you for reading and voting. I hope you enjoyed the story!

The Value of Feedback

I know I keep mentioning Redwall Survivor, but I’ve learned so much over the last couple months in this writing game!

Things are getting tighter. We’re in Round 5 now, and six contestants remain. Four of the original ten have been voted away. Three more rounds of voting left to go before we have it down to the final three.

Let me give you a breakdown of what we go through each round. In a sense, it usually starts around midnight (10 p.m. for me!) on the day the voting closes. We all cluster onto our Skype chat and await the results. Airan (our moderator) lets us know when the results are available and we scurry to the forum for the “Round X Voting Results”. Sighs of relief and tears of loss are shed and then back in the chat we all begin to hash out what’s going to happen in the coming round.

We’ve had a very rough outline we’ve been following this whole time and a common goal we’re aiming at, but each writer is bringing their own character and their own ideas to each round. Sometimes making all those ideas mesh into one unit is very tricky and after the vote each round, plans have to be rearranged, because Character A and B had planned to do such and such in this round, but then Character B was voted off and will now die in the story so what they’d planned could no long be done. One round in particular hit me hard that way, in that the character I had planned on interacting with was the one voted away.

So we sit and begin figuring out what will have to change, how we can fix the hole left by the departing cast member, and what our individual goals are for our characters. Often, Airan has reasons that the voters have sent for why they decided to vote a cast member out and he will share those with us. This helps us improve our writing and storytelling, since these comments can often give us specific areas to work on.

After getting a rough plot for the round and a rough posting order based on what each of us wants to do, we each retreat to our own space and begin working out our posts. We have a “Pre-Post” board hidden on the forum where we post the early drafts of our stories. Some members like to post outlines here so everyone else can get an idea of what’s going on in their story, some just post a rough story. Some get their story up in the eleventh hour. 😛 We critique and check SPAG (Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar) on each others post (sometimes rearranging the posting order last minute) and then start posting the finished stories for all the readers. The round closes and we all sit back for two days of voting before we start the crazy cycle over again.

Here’s where I’m getting to the point of this. Last Wednesday night, we learned the fate of one of our beloved cast. We hashed a few things out in those wee morning hours, and Thursday I started on my post and got a rough draft up in “Pre-Post.” Unfortunately, I hated what I’d written. As I skimmed through other rough drafts and outlines, it seemed like everyone else had such epic ideas and exciting things happening in their posts. Mine was pretty lame in comparison. I said something in the chat about my post and one cast member said he’d read it over and send me his thoughts. A bit later he offered to do a Skype call with me and together we discussed my post and what I liked and what he liked and he gave me some of his thoughts. I made notes and then tackled the post again.

At the same time as I was struggling with my post, another cast member was having a few issues of her own. I read over her post and sent her my thoughts, giving her a couple of my own ideas on directions she could take if they appealed to her. Her post is mostly complete now and sounds so much better than it did in the rough draft stage.

As for myself, I had a more complete draft up by Monday and I had two different members of the Survivor cast comment on the final scene in my post. Both felt the scene was a little awkward and forced, so with a little help, I rehashed that scene and rewrote it.

Now an updated version is sitting in the “Pre-Post” and I’m feeling pretty good about it.

That’s one of the beautiful things about this competition. We are competing, yes, but we’re also a team. Given the short turnaround time involved in these posts (less than a week between rough draft and publication, generally), we rely heavily on each other to help check for errors and make our posts the best they can be. In fact, I’m noticing a trend that those who are getting pre-posts up early and getting feedback and acting on some of that feedback are doing better when the vote comes around as opposed to those who are posting later and missing out on vital feedback (or disregarding feedback all together).

I’m going to be very sad when this competition ends, because it’s been a lot of fun and I’ve learned a lot about writing, revision, and critiquing. I’m hoping I can keep in touch with the members of the cast after Mossflower Odyssey III ends, because there are a few of them who I’d love their thoughts on the work I’ve got that’s soon to be published.

Have you been reading The Lost Treasure of Captain Blade? Got a favorite character? Or have you ever participated in a story project like this? Let me know in the comments!

The Emotion Thesaurus

For a while now, I’ve been considering doing a regular addition to my blog on various ‘tools’ I have found helpful in my writing journey. Yesterday I got a message from a former student of mine, asking for writing advice. Sure, there’s an abundance of stuff out there already, but you never know when you might learn something new from someone. And sometimes you just have to hear something in a different way. Entrepreneur J.R. Ridinger has a favorite saying that you have to hear something seven times, in seven different ways, from seven different people before it finally clicks.

So this is going to be the first installment of my look on “Writing Tools.” Today I’m going to talk about one of my new favorites, which has been getting a LOT of use thanks to Mossflower Odyssey III: The Lost Treasure of Captain Blade.

The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.

I found The Emotion Thesaurus before it was an actual book. The authors have a blog called Writers Helping Writers, which was The Bookshelf Muse at the time. One thing they do on a weekly basis is add a new entry to one of their descriptive thesauruses. Once they completed the entries for The Emotion Thesaurus, they pulled it off their site and turned it into a fantastic book. Other thesauruses are still available on Writers Helping Writers, such as a Physical Attribute Thesaurus, a Setting Thesaurus, and the current Emotional Wounds Thesaurus, which gets a new addition every week.

Now, The Emotion Thesaurus is a fantastic tool for writers to help with showing rather than telling. For example, the current post I’m working on for Redwall Survivor had my character feeling disgust at a situation (shh, Spoilers!). But instead of writing that this character felt disgusted, I flipped open the thesaurus to “Disgust”.


Each entry in the Thesaurus gives you first a Definition of the emotion. For the section I was working on, I chose the Physical Signals wrinkling one’s nose, flinching, and averting one’s gaze. I made use of some Internal Sensations, like nausea or a heaving stomach. For Mental Responses, I was able to use feeling unclean. I even found a way to stick in Cues of Acute or Long-Term Disgust, one of which was hyper-protectiveness of personal space. You’re also given a choice of additional emotions it May Escalate To and Cues of Suppressed Disgust, which I personally didn’t need to use for my current chapter, though those may come into play in my next post.

Each emotion in The Emotion Thesaurus takes two pages of the book. You have 75 emotions, from Amusement to Gratitude to Loneliness to Worry. Depending on the personality of your character, you can find all sorts of responses. I knew my Redwall Survivor character wouldn’t be dry washing their hands, but I did show him/her averting their gaze and refusing to look at the situation.

I especially find this book helpful in spicing up sections of dialogue, because I can look through all of the emotions related to the scene and weave them in with the dialogue, rather than lots of “he said/she said.”

Have you ever used The Emotion Thesaurus?

For the Love of Redwall

The Redwall Survivor competition has had me reflecting back on something I like to refer to as my “First Reading Love”. It was the first book series that I really fell in love with, read obsessively, wrote fanfic for, and essentially allowed to take over my life.

It was the Redwall Series by Brian Jacques.

I discovered the world of Redwall and Mossflower on spring day while browsing books at my library. I was 11 or 12 years old at the time. In those days, my method of finding reading material involved wandering up and down the aisles in the kids’ section at my library, picking out the thickest books I saw. I liked books that took me more than an hour to read. Unfortunately, it seemed that many of the books geared towards my age were thin things.

I spotted a row of rather thick looking books with strange titles and I grabbed one.

“Wow!” I thought. “This looks really interesting.” I checked it out and took it home.

The particular copy I picked up was a paperback version (not the hardback version seen above), so it was quite easy for me to stick it in my backpack and take to school. I vividly remember the window sill I sat by at the edge the playground as I started to read this book. The words, “Orlando the Axe was following the fox,” burned themselves into my memory.

I was hooked.

Later that summer, and a few Redwall books later, I was walking across the street to get the mail. I heard my neighbor friend chopping wood in his backyard. Specifically, this is what I heard. “REDWAAAAALLL!” THUNK! “REDWAAAAALLL!” THUNK!

“Ah, hah!” I said, “He reads them too!” I asked him about them and before long, our outdoor ‘games’ became Redwall based. He was a badger named Strongpaw. His sister was a foxwolf named Bren Sprackenwulf. I became a hare named Lilac Blacktip. The playhouse in my backyard was renamed Fort Hawkeye. Our younger siblings occasionally played, but their involvement was more infrequent. Strongpaw and I used our pocketknives on the fallen cottonwood tree in the field behind my house to make swords out of the tree branches and we had many adventures.

In early 1998, my family got the internet (good old dial-up AOL) and I did a search for Redwall. I found the original site and discovered that there was such a thing as a Redwall Club. Unfortunately, the club was not accepting members at the time, but there were links to other Redwall clubs. I joined the HAWM (Haven for Avian Warriors in Mossflower) as a golden eagle named Goldtail. My friend Bren joined also as a redtail hawk named Arn Rustwing.

I joined a few other Redwall clubs over the months before deciding that I wanted to start my own. It was a cookie cutter Redwall club. No different from the others out there. I called it the Wandering Mossflower Defenders. I got a few members, but there was nothing special about it.

Then Bren approached me and said, “I’ve got an idea for a Redwall club. I’ll write up all the information for it and you do the computer work.” Sounded good, so every few days, she brought me pages scribbled on the back of old homework and I sat down and gave myself a crash course in HTML, creating a new website on Geocities. As the framework was built, Bren and I advertised this new club on the various message boards for the clubs we were involved in. Our tag line for the club was “You cannot escape our eye.” And the club’s name?

The Sentinels of Mossflower.

Finally, on Thursday, September 10, 1998, after spending ALL afternoon putting the final finishing touches to the site, we posted the link for the first time.

Then, my mom came home, chewed me out for being online all day, and tying up the phone line. Apparently, she’d been trying to call me all day and in the days of land lines and dial up, time spent online meant calls couldn’t come through. That was the only time I ever got grounded (yes, I was one of those kids who NEVER got in trouble), but she grounded me from the computer until Monday.

Monday morning, I got online quickly before school. My inbox was jammed with emails from people wanting to join the Sentinels.

Over the next few years, I practically devoted my life to the Sentinels of Mossflower. At first, Bren helped and was involved in the message board and such, but as time went on, she drifted away and left me to my own devices. I missed her involvement, but I loved the club with fierce intensity. During what I consider to be the high point of the ROC (Redwall Online Community), the Sentinels had over 200 members. Many of the members would instant message me whenever I was online and I made friends around the world.

In addition to running the Sentinels and role playing on our message board there, I took my characters to various other message boards. The Salamandastron Dance and the Boz were two of my favorite haunts. Not only did my Sentinel characters make appearances there, but I created numerous new characters to play with. I made more friends and an enemy or two there. Laughed, cried, got mad, and even found romance.

Here’s the funniest thing about this time period. I can credit the Redwall books and the Sentinels of Mossflower for my relationship with my husband. During the ROC’s golden days, Bren was the only real life friend I had that liked the Redwall books and unfortunately for me, she moved away during this time. I was incredibly lonely. I lived for the moments when I could hop on the computer, drop my lonely teenage self at the keyboard, and become someone else. It was through the ROC that I was really happy and comfortable with myself.

Then one day, a boy (who would become my husband about 5 years later) approached me at a school basketball game. I’d played a few years of basketball, but gave it up because I wasn’t enjoying myself and wasn’t good at it, but I still wanted to support my old team. I was sitting alone, watching the game, and doodling in my sketchbook. I was trying to be an artist like Bren (and her friend Vizon, who I knew through Salamandastron Dance). My future husband approached me and asked what I was drawing.

Now, I was scared of him at this time (even though I’d known him and his family almost my entire life). He was over 6 feet tall, loud, outgoing, and just about my complete opposite in every way. Oh, he was nice, but he was just so big and loud. Usually when he approached me, I kept my answers short and found a way to escape from him as politely as possible.

But this night was different, because what I had in my sketchbook were drawings of my Sentinels characters and he began asking me more and more about the Sentinels and about Redwall. The next day, he completely freaked me out by being the first boy to ever call me on the phone. He had one question. “What were those books you told me about?”

The next time I saw him at school, he was carrying a copy of Brian Jacques’ The Long Patrol. When I asked him what he thought about it, he said he was really enjoying it. Finally, I had someone else to talk to about Redwall! Within no time, we were hanging out every day. He joined my club as a badger named Bronx and began joining me in the role playing.


I was pretty happy during these years. My life revolved around school, Redwall, and Bronx. I slowly built my collection of Redwall books each birthday and Christmas. I read each book multiple times and was practically a walking Redwall encyclopedia. I actually had a challenge on the Sentinels where members could send me suggestions for a quiz we had and they got bonus points if I couldn’t answer the question correctly first.

As the years went on and I finished high school, my time for Redwall and the Sentinels dwindled. I still read the books and I still role played, but real life was slowly pulling me out of the fantasy world I’d built for myself. In December of 2002, the Sentinels of Mossflower was temporarily closed down because I moved to Ghana, West Africa for 6 months and knew my internet would be spotty at best. I restarted the Sentinels when I returned to the States, but things kept me busy. The Sentinels never again saw the grandeur of those early years.

The last official update for the Sentinels of Mossflower was on Saturday, October 25, 2008, just over ten years from the day I began. Within about a year, Geocities shut down and the Sentinels were no more. Fortunately for nostalgia, the site was preserved through the Reocities.com project, so if you really want, you can still view the old site.

The biggest blow to Redwall and the ROC came on February 5, 2011, when the world received the news that Brian Jacques had passed away. My own heart broke and I’ll admit that I cried for a good while after that. My youngest sister stopped by later that day with an ice cream cake and a funny movie to help cheer me up. She understood just how hard it was for me to see one of my heroes go.

My birthday came only a month later and I received a present from my mom’s boyfriend (now my step-dad). It was a hard copy of The Long Patrol and included a note that said he knew I already had that book, but this one was special. I opened it up.


Though I keep busy now writing the Sentinels of Mysera series and living my life, the world of Redwall and the first Sentinels hold a huge piece of my heart. Thanks to my friends on Redwall Survivor, I’ve been reminded just how much those books meant to me and just how much fun Brian Jacques’ world could be.

Have you ever read any Redwall books? Were you a member of the ROC? Even better, were you an old Sentinel of Mossflower? Let me know in the comments below.

A Hiccup in the Giddy-up

So last week, I finally got around to writing a review for The Iron Daughter by Julie Kagawa. I had it all ready to go up, hit the Publish button, and found out that my internet was down. Stuff happened, called the internet company, didn’t have net access for a couple hours, then continued on with my day. By the time I had my internet access back, I’d shut the computer down, forgetting that I had a review that hadn’t gone up.

And hadn’t been saved, as I found out later.

Unfortunately, the book has been returned to the library and my brain is so fried right now that I can’t remember much about what I said. So I’m afraid there won’t be much of a review. I found it about as interesting as the first book in that series had been, but honestly, I can’t remember more than that.

In other news, the next category I’m tackling in my 2015 Reading Challenge is “A trilogy”. I’m currently working through The Obsidian Trilogy by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory. It’s been slow going. I think I’ve been so mentally distracted by Redwall Survivor that I’m not getting along with any of my other projects.

If you haven’t checked out Mossflower Odyssey III: The Lost Treasure of Captain Blade yet, be sure you do. Round 3 has just started (and I’m still in!) and the story has been incredibly fun. I’m having a blast with the cast and the reviews I’ve received for my posts have been incredibly encouraging and beneficial to both my writing for the competition and my writing in general.

Oh, and since one of the cast mentioned it, here’s a little shout out to the cast member who admitted that he found my blog when doing a search for the competition. *waves*

Hit me up in the comments if you’re following along with The Lost Treasure of Captain Blade. Let me know who your favorite character is from this year’s cast.